I was reading through an entry on the Catholic Encyclopedia when I found this (about the doctrine of hell):
“The Church has repeatedly defined this truth, e.g. in the profession of faith made in the Second Council of Lyons (Denz., n. 464) and in the Decree of Union in the Council of Florence (Denz., n. 693): “the souls of those who depart in mortal sin, or only in original sin, go down immediately into hell, to be visited, however, with unequal punishments” (poenis disparibus).”
Sure enough, I looked it up and found the relevant passage, from the sixth session of the Council of Florence, (July 6, 1439):
“Also, the souls of those who have incurred no stain of sin whatsoever after baptism, as well as souls who after incurring the stain of sin have been cleansed whether in their bodies or outside their bodies, as was stated above, are straightaway received into heaven and clearly behold the triune God as he is, yet one person more perfectly than another according to the difference of their merits. But the souls of those who depart this life in actual mortal sin, or in original sin alone, go down straightaway to hell to be punished, but with unequal pains.”
It bothers me to think that those who die merely in original sin go down straightaway to hell, in particular because, according to O’Collins and Farrugia:
“In a letter of 1201, Pope Innocent III distinguished personal sin from original sin. Unlike personal sin, original sin is simply inherited and does not involve any deliberate offence against God. Consequently, in the case of infants, who are not yet capable of personal conversion, original sin can be ‘forgiven’ through baptism alone. Innocent added that, whereas those infants who die in the state of original sin will not enjoy the beatific vision, hell is a punishment reserved for those (adults) who have sinned deliberately against God (DH 780; ND 506). The Pope thus settled an issue, raised already by Augustine: do unbaptized infants merit hell? Medieval theologians proposed the existence of ‘limbo’, appealing to later teaching that had been falsely attributed to the Sixteenth Council of Carthage (DH 224), and that spoke of ‘a certain middle place’, which was neither heaven nor hell.”
However, it is unclear to me how much authority that letter of Pope Innocent III has; in addition to that apparent conflict, though, there is the intuitive argument from reason that the punishment must fit the crime (this is, presumably, why the pains of hell are not evenly distributed, but instead the Church affirms poenis disparibus). However, even if we are each implicated in Adam’s sin, surely the pains of hell must be reserved for those who have rejected God. This was the rationale behind different theologies of limbo (from Augustine’s version to St. Thomas’ much more wholesome version). Does the note about unequal punishment allow the faithful theologian any room to argue that some version of limbo is merely an extension of hell?
The Catholic Encyclopedia, in its entry on Limbo, notes the following:
“… St. Thomas was the first great teacher who broke away completely from the Augustinian tradition on this subject, and relying on the principle, derived through the Pseudo-Dionysius from the Greek Fathers, that human nature as such with all its powers and rights was unaffected by the Fall (quod naturalia manent integra), maintained, at least virtually, what the great majority of later Catholic theologians have expressly taught, that the limbus infantium is a place or state of perfect natural happiness.
No reason can be given — so argued the Angelic Doctor — for exempting unbaptized children from the material torments of Hell (poena sensus) that does not hold good, even a fortiori, for exempting them also from internal spiritual suffering (poena damni in the subjective sense), since the latter in reality is the more grievous penalty, and is more opposed to the mitissima poena which St. Augustine was willing to admit (De Malo, V, art. iii). Hence he expressly denies that they suffer from any “interior affliction”, in other words that they experience any pain of loss (nihil omnino dolebunt de carentia visionis divinae — “In Sent.”, II, 33, q. ii, a. 2). At first (“In Sent.”, loc. cit.), St. Thomas held this absence of subjective suffering to be compatible with a consciousness of objective loss or privation, the resignation of such souls to the ways of God’s providence being so perfect that a knowledge of what they had lost through no fault of their own does not interfere with the full enjoyment of the natural goods they possess. Afterwards, however, he adopted the much simpler psychological explanation which denies that these souls have any knowledge of the supernatural destiny they have missed, this knowledge being itself supernatural, and as such not included in what is naturally due to the separated soul (De Malo loc. cit.). It should be added that in St. Thomas’ view the limbus infantium is not a mere negative state of immunity from suffering and sorrow, but a state of positive happiness in which the soul is united to God by a knowledge and love of him proportionate to nature’s capacity.”
As attractive as St. Thomas’ view of the limbus infantium is, I wonder if it is consistent with the declaration of the Council of Florence. Intuitively it seems that for it to be consistent with the Council of Florence, the limbus infantium would have to be part of hell, but it seems difficult to accept that hell could, for some of its denizens, involve not only the absence of all suffering, but also union with God proportionate to nature’s capacity and even full enjoyment of natural goods.
What do people here think?